How many of the planets scattered across the Universe have the potential to harbour life? An observatory being built in Tasmania is poised to help answer just that question.
Astronomers at the University of Tasmania (UTas) currently use the Mount Canopus Observatory in Hobart to search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant suns—but the growing city is compromising the observatory’s view of space. “Light is driving us away,” says John Greenhill, the Observatory’s director. Continue reading Bringing undiscovered Earths into focus→
Modern astronomy seems dominated by huge, expensive and powerful machines staffed by highly trained professionals. Yet significant findings can still be made by people like Anthony Wesley, a computer software engineer and amateur astronomer who lives just north of Canberra.
About 12.40 am on 20 July 2009, Anthony—who loves to keep an eye on Jupiter with his 14.5 inch (36.83 cm) diameter reflecting telescope— noticed a small black spot near the south pole of his favourite planet. It was in the wrong place and the wrong size to be a moon, he says, and also it was moving too slowly. In fact, it was moving at the same pace as a nearby storm. Continue reading An amateur crashes onto the scene→
You have to be well prepared, quick and lucky to take a picture of an explosion, especially if that explosion occurred 11 billion years ago in a remote part of the Universe. Having the right equipment, plus friends in high places, certainly helps. And that’s exactly what the Zadko Telescope—managed by the University of Western Australia at the Gingin Observatory about 70 kilometres north of Perth—does have.
In December 2008, just after it was installed, the telescope was first on the scene to record for future analysis the afterglow of a momentous event—a huge explosion as a star collapsed into a black hole releasing a massive gamma-ray burst. It’s the kind of happening the one-metre Zadko Telescope, currently the largest optical telescope in Western Australia, was built to observe. And it performed flawlessly, outpacing the world’s most powerful telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
Imagine an extremely large optical telescope fitted with detectors that can selectively collect light from a particular section of the telescope’s focal plane. Using revolutionary robotic technology called Starbugs, the detector will reconfigure itself in real time to collect from any particular area of the image, and will feed the data into any analytical instrument.
That’s exactly what Matthew Colless and his team at the Australian Astronomical Observatory have in mind with the development of MANIFEST (the many-instrument fibre system)—which make use of the special photonic technologies developed by Joss Bland-Hawthorn and his team at the University of Sydney. Continue reading Sifting sky data→
Using the Gemini South telescope in Chile, a team of astronomers led by Joss Bland-Hawthorn of the University of Sydney revealed the faint, outer regions of the galaxy called NGC 300, showing that the galaxy is at least twice the size as thought previously. The findings suggest that our own Milky Way galaxy could also be bigger than the textbooks say.
When the present upgrade is complete, the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI) will be able to resolve objects the size of a beach ball on the Moon, says Mike Ireland of Macquarie University in Sydney. This large interferometer will be used to determine the dimensions—size, weight and velocity—of pulsating stars, hot stars, and massive stars. SUSI will also be involved in the search for binary stars and their planetary companions. Continue reading Seeing a beach ball on the moon→
It seems counterintuitive, but restricting the amount of light that reaches a telescope can sharpen up its output. The technique will be used on NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope: the James Webb Space Telescope. But it is already proving its worth here on Earth.
Images of the binary star known as Wolf-Rayet 104 (WR104), published in 2008 by Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney, reveal the power of the new technique, which is known as aperture masking. WR104 should be difficult to see because it is in a deep cloud of dust, but Peter and his colleagues used aperture masking when observing the star with the Keck telescope in Hawai’i. The mask leads to sharper images because it cuts down complexity and makes the data easier to process and rid of error. Continue reading Keck telescope dons a mask→
An Australian company, Electro-Optic Systems (EOS), is one of the biggest developers of large, high-precision, optical research telescopes in the world. In fact, EOS has designed, built and installed the SkyMapper telescope and its enclosure at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales.
The headquarters of EOS is at the Mt Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, but its reach is international. Equipment the company has installed include the University of Tokyo’s two-metre telescope at Mount Haleakala, Hawai’i, a two-metre telescope in the Himalayas for the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, and the 2.4 metre Advanced Planet Finder (APF) at the University of California’s Lick Observatory. Continue reading Australian company brings the Universe within range→
The Mount Stromlo Observatory of the Australian National University (ANU) is rising from the ashes of Canberra’s 2003 bushfires, after an investment of millions of dollars into cutting-edge technologies and facilities.
The Mount Stromlo site—home to the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA)—no longer acts as a research observatory, but rather as a high-tech hub developing astronomical instruments for the world’s most advanced telescopes. Staff at the RSAA’s Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre have already built multimillion dollar instruments, such as the Near-Infrared Integral-Field Spectrograph (NIFS) for the Gemini North Telescope which provides images in the infrared equivalent to the Hubble Space Telescope in the optical range. Continue reading Mount Stromlo Observatory rising from the ashes→